CAMPING IN OCTOBER

L’Osstidburn is happening mid-october this year, well into the fall season. Most likely we’ll be camping in cold weather; for many among you this will be the first time.

Leading up to the event we’re going to be publishing small dispatches to raise awareness of what camping in cold weather is like, to provide tips on how to prepare, and to describe some pitfalls. For now, here’s the executive summary:

– Camping in cold weather is differently challenging from summertime camping. Depending on your level of preparedness it can color your experience either positively or negatively; either way, it absolutely will be something to remember.

– Camping in cold weather is also different from cold weather activities such as skiing or snowshoeing; inactivity and alcohol can rob you of warmth equivalent to 15-20 degrees Celsius.

– You should aim not just to be safe, but also comfortable. The temperature ratings on your gear are usually safety ratings, not comfort ratings, under certain assumptions (e.g. going to bed with a tuque on). In reality you probably want to give yourself a nice big margin, perhaps by layering sleeping bags or wearing your winter jacket to bed.

WHY WOULD I EVER WANT TO GO CAMPING IN COLD WEATHER?

Camping in cold weather is an unusual challenge; some participants will no doubt appreciate the opportunity to test themselves, to prove that they can do this and even enjoy it while they’re doing it.

But there are other reasons than just “because I can”. If you like to be wrapped up in comfy clothing and blankets, this year you will be able to take that to the next level. There is nothing quite like sleeping wrapped in a 12-inch-thick cocoon of every warm thing you own. Waking up with a hot cocoa by the fire isn’t bad either.

WILL I REGRET GOING CAMPING IN COLD WEATHER?

It won’t be because of the small annoyances. Maybe you’ll wake up to find that your drinking water now has pieces of ice floating it in. Or maybe you’ll make the incredibly common mistake of keeping your boots on when you warm your feet by the fire, thus slightly melting your soles.  Maybe the waterproofing on your tent has gone, and your spare pair of socks is in a pool of ice water.

No, if your camping at Losstidburn this year goes sideways, it will be because you did not bring enough warm stuff. And if it goes *really* sideways, it will be because – this is the crucial part – you were either unwilling or unable to seek help when you needed it.

It’s rather common for people to hide when they’re experiencing physical discomfort from the elements, even up to the point where it puts their lives at risk. You may feel like it’s humiliating to reach out for help. You thought you were ready but in fact you were not, and you don’t want to make it someone else’s problem.

If you find yourself in this situation, please reach out for help. Commit to seeking assistance if you or anyone you see experiences either prolonged, uncontrollable shivering or loss of sensation in the extremities.

HOW COLD IS OCTOBER?

Expect temperatures around 10 celsius in the daytime, and close to 0 in the nighttime. Temperature reaches freezing almost half of nights.[1]

As for rain, yearly variation is huge. We could have rain every day or no rain at all. On average it rains every other day in October.[2]

[1] https://climate.weather.gc.ca/climate_normals/results_1981_2010_e.html?stnID=5300&autofwd=1

[2] https://www.weather-atlas.com/en/canada/montreal-weather-october

SUBSTANCE USE AND THE COLD

People elect to use psychoactive substances for a variety of reasons. Common themes include celebration, bonding, self-discovery, and light-hearted fun.

These substances are not without risk. Always, there exists a dosage at which fun and insight begin to fall away, and the experience becomes entirely about managing the high. This threshold dosage varies wildly not only according to the specific substance, but also to one’s fatigue, emotional state, etc. The consequences of crossing this threshold dosage can vary wildly in severity, from mild inconvenience all the way to trauma, permanent injury or death.

Should you choose to use drugs, it is your responsibility to manage your own safety and well-being. And indeed, the vast majority of those who choose to use drugs at events acquit themselves handsomely of this responsibility. So why are we even bringing this up?

In short, because the cold completely changes the risk calculus of drug use. In the cold, your tolerance to certain substances is likely to be substantially lower before you find yourself in crisis. And if you find yourself in a severe enough crisis, the consequences are way more dire. (On an average summer night, should you pass out in a ditch, you still have pretty good odds of living to see the sun rise. Less so in the fall.)

Certain categories of drugs become especially risky. In particular sedatives such as alcohol, Xanax, GHB and opiates can interfere with one’s capacity to recognize that they are experiencing a crisis; and their capacity to reach out for help, should they recognize that they need it.

If you choose to use downers at a camping event in the fall, you should drastically scale down your dosage to protect yourself (and anyone you’re sharing with). And if someone you know to be on a copious amount of downers suspiciously goes missing, consider whether they may be in danger, and consider pausing what you’re doing to go look for them.

It’s certainly possible to use safely and enjoy yourself at an outdoors event in the fall. I’ll end on a quick tip: dress up for the night before things get too crazy! Peeling off several layers to put on thermal underwear is a different kind of challenge when you’re in an altered state.